The Midrash tells us part of what made Eisav give up a life of serving Hashem was the death of Avraham, his grandfather. Eisav was 15 years old when Avraham died. Eisav could not understand how someone so special and good could pass away at the age of 175. Eisav was lacking the basic understanding what every Jew should know; that our reward for Mitzvos is not in this world. Our life in this world is only to give us the opportunity to earn our reward in the next world. The next world is where we reap the rewards that we earned in this world.
Parshas Chayei Sorah
The Torah tells us that Avraham was old and had come into his days. Why the double explanation of being old? The Midrash Rabbah tells us that before Avraham's time people didn't look old. A person reached maturity and remained that way. Avraham was worried that people couldn't tell the difference between him and Yitzchak. He asked Hashem to make a differentiation so people will show respect for elders. Hashem said he will make a change starting with him. That night, Avraham went to sleep and woke up the next morning with white hair and a white beard. Hashem told Avraham to be proud of his white hair; that “Hadar Zekienim Seiba -the beauty of old people is looking old”. We have been brought up in a society where everybody wants to look younger, and old age is disrespected. The Torah view is the exact opposite! Old age is something to respect and be proud of. There is a law in the Torah that has been overlooked in this country and that is “Mipnie Seiba Takum”, which means that we must stand up for the elderly. According to the Torah, we have an obligation to stand up for someone over the age of seventy when they walk into a room. Therefore, Avraham was given white hair which is supposed to be a sign of pride for every senior citizen and a hint for us to show respect for one's age. This is something TOP is trying to bring back. It is crucial to reach out to senior citizens and let them know they are a very important part of the Jewish community
When the Torah said Avraham planted an Eshel, Rashi brings a Machlokes, a disagreement between Rav and Shmuel. One says “Eshel” means an orchard, taking the word planted literally, and one said “Eshel” is an inn. Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that although they are similar in the fact that they are both anchored into the ground in a way that they cannot move, a building is quite different because it does not produce fruit. How could you call building an inn the same as planting? Rav Moshe answered that when it came to the acts of Chessed, kindness, of Avraham, it was the exact same thing as planting because he was getting fruit. The fruit came from his future generation who follow his example of kindness.
The Torah tells us that Noach and his family worked day and night to feed and take care of the animals. Many of us have pets and know that you can put the required amount of food in the pen or a cage for a few days and most animals will take care of themselves. Rav Zaidel Epstien explains that Noach and his family were being trained for a whole new world. The world before the flood was a world of selfishness. Everything they did pointed to selfishness. What is immorality? Taking the physical enjoyment of marriage for personal gratification only, with no regard for others’ needs or benefit. What is Idol worship? It is not one G-d, our G-D; it’s my G-D, that I turn to for myself. Rashi says it was the sin of robbery that sealed their fate. The word used for robbery is not Gezeila, but Chamas, which refers to forcibly taking something that the seller does not want to give - even if the money is paid in full. That, in the eyes of Hashem, is robbery because in order to transfer ownership, the deal must work for everyone - not just myself. This summed up the situation: it was all about me. Therefore, the thing that sealed their fate was Chamas; regarding spouses, property, or anything, it’s all about me. Noach and his family had to build a brand-new world in order to get out of the same rut it was in before. The new forerunners had to be trained in the concept of “Olom Chesed Yibaneh”. The world is built on kindness and giving to others!
כִּ֛י חֵ֥לֶק ה' עַמּ֑וֹ יַעֲקֹב חֶ֥בֶל נַֽחֲלָתֽ "Hashem’s portion is His people. Yaakov is His inheritance" Every day in davening we say, אַשְרֵינוּ מַה טוֹב חֶלקֵינוּ, וּמַה נָעִים גוֹרָלֵנוּ ,וּמַה יָפֶה יְרוּשָתֵנוּ How happy we are, how great is our lot, how beautiful is our inheritance. We are the children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. We are Hashem’s people, chosen to serve Him. The servant of a king is also royalty. Every Jew needs to realize (especially this time of year) that Hashem loves each and every one of us. He therefore gave us a Torah which is a tool showing us how to run our lives with a sense of priorities, morals, and Kedusha. Hashem rewards us for keeping these mitzvos, which are for our own benefit anyway, and punishes us like a parent who punishes a child for the child’s own good. More than any other time, from the Yomim Noraim through Sukkos, Hashem shows us this love by allowing us to do Teshuva for our mistakes, receive forgiveness, and then celebrate our closeness to Him. Another incredible gift Hashem gave us is part of Himself. ”Ki Chelek Hashem Amo - Hashem's portion is His nation." We have an immortal soul which is a part of Hashem Himself. No one has any excuse not to attain Torah and fear of Heaven, because we were each given a spiritual power which is super human. There is no spiritual level that we cannot reach if we try. Hashem promises us: “Harchev Picha Vamleihu - Open your mouth and ask for it and I will fulfill your request.” _____________________________ שְׁאַל אָבִיךָ וְיַגֵּדְךָ זְקֵנֶיךָ וְיֹאמְרוּ לָךְ "Ask your father and he will tell you, and your grandfather and he will say to you" How appropriate is this Passuk for the Torah Outreach Program! The people who come to this program have not only so much to gain, but so much to give. Just by listening to them, I’ve learned so much about the trials and tribulations of the past generation: here, in Europe, and in Israel. I am very grateful to be part of their lives!
This is the last Shabbos of the year! Rav Eliyahu Lapian says it’s like having very important company staying in your home for a year. For the first few weeks that they are with us, we treat them like royalty but after some time we treat them like family. When they leave however, we make a final meal and treat them with tremendous honor showing how much we appreciated their stay. Every Shabbos we have Hashem Himself staying with us. Some Shabbosim we treat Hashem with respect by honoring Shabbos, but sometimes, even though we are keeping the laws of Shabbos, we relax our standards of Kavod due to familiarity and rote. This Shabbos is the last Shabbos of the year, the last time this year we will have the Ribbono Shel Olom in our homes. Says Rav Eliyahu Lapian: This Shabbos we need to pull out all the stops, we need to show Hashem how we are Michabed his Shabbos on the last Shabbos of the year. One of the more famous line in this week’s Parsha is, "Ki HaMitzva Hazos Asher Anochi Metzavcha Hayom Lo Niphlas Mimcha - This Mitzvah that I command you is not hidden from you.” "Beficha U'bilvavcha Lasoso - It is in your mouth and in your heart to do it.” What is this Mitzvah? The Ramban says that the Mitzvah is Teshuva. The Torah is telling us on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah that doing Teshuva is part of the DNA of every Jew!
Parshas Ki Sovo
There are two times in this week's Parsha that we are told how important it is to have gratitude. When bringing our first fruits to Yerushalayim, we are told "You should rejoice with all the good that Hashem has done for you and your household." Later in the Parsha, in the middle of the rebuke, we are told that we will be punished for not serving Hashem with joy and a happy heart. Why all the emphasis on joy and gratitude, isn't it enough that to just keep the Mitzvos? When Adam met Kayin after Kayin had murdered Hevel, Adam asked him what happened. Kayin told Adam that he did Teshuva and he was forgiven. Adam hit himself on the head and said, "I wish I would have known the power of Teshuva!" He then wrote a poem about Teshuva called Mizmor Shir Leyom Hashabbos. If you look at the words, there is no mention of Teshuva, just words of gratitude. Because at that moment, Adam understood that the best way to do Teshuva is through gratitude. When we recognize what Hashem does for us, it makes us want to come closer to Him.
Parshas Ki Seitzei
The Mitzva of Shiluach HaKan, which is sending away the mother bird before taking the eggs, has tremendous power. The Midrash says it helps brings Moshiach and it helps bring Eliyahu Hanavi. The Midrash tells us that the Torah is alluding to this in the words “Shalach Tishalach - You should surely send”, referring to the mother bird. The word Shalach is referring to Mashiach and Eliyahu Hanavi who is the one who will tell us that Mashiach is on his way. Rabbi Ephraim Eliyahu Shapiro has another allusion to Eliyahu and Moshiach. The verse in our Parsha says, “Shalach Tishalach es HaEM V’es Habanim Tikach Lach - Send away the mother and take the offspring for yourself.” This says Rabbi Shapiro can allegorically mean that we are asking G-D, “Send the EM which is an acronym for Eliyahu and Moshiach and take your children back!” May it happen speedily in our days!
We are now in the month of Elul and it’s interesting to note that the Torah reading this week and next week deal with the laws of going to war. The Torah reading most often reflects the time of year that we are in. Why then when we are supposed to be preparing for the days of judgement, are we hearing about going to war? Rav Avraham Schur explains that the Torah is alluding to the personal war we are supposed to be waging within ourselves This is the time of year when we change our ways by suppressing and conquering our Yetzer Hara (the inclination to do evil). We are told in the Torah: Don’t be afraid to go to war since Hashem is on our side. It’s the same thing here; if we make the effort to come close to Hashem, He’ll take us the rest of the way. The acronym for the name of Elul shows us this. Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li - I am for my beloved and my Beloved is for me. First we show Hashem our love for him and He will return that love a thousand fold
Before the Torah was given, reward and punishment were meted directly by Hashem. After receiving the Torah, our actions (both positive and negative) have consequences as a direct outcome of the action. Rav Chaim Volozhin taught that being made in the image of G-D means that we are in control. All the good and bad in this world are directly depending on our actions. In this week’s Parsha, we are told, “I put before you life and death and I'm advising you, ‘Choose life!’”
The beginning of the Parsha gives what seems like a detailed description of where the Jewish people were at the time. Rashi, however, points out that they were not at the places that were mentioned, or that some of the locations didn’t even exist. So why were those places mentioned? The answer is that they were hinting to places that K’lal Yisroel sinned, and the Torah did not want to talk disparagingly about the Jewish nation. This seems strange: We are all taught that each place mentioned alludes to another sin, so why not just say it? This answer is the same that we mentioned a few weeks ago regarding Bilam. Why didn’t Hashem let Bilam curse the Jewish people and just not allow the curses to be fulfilled? Because He didn’t want Bilam to say something negative about the people. As we enter into Tisha B’Av, we should remember that just speaking negatively about another Jew regardless of who is listening or who is not listening is wrong!
Parshas Matos Massai
The Sfas Emes points out that when Moshe berated the tribe of Reuven for wanting to settle on the East side of the Jordan river and not in Eretz Yisroel proper, the people kept quiet throughout his entire speech. He told them they are making the same mistake as the spies did 40 years earlier and are going to demoralize the nation again from crossing over into the Jordan River. They did not answer that they had every intention of crossing over and helping to conquer the land until Moshe was done berating them. The Gerrer Rebbe explains that it is a privilege to hear the rebuke of a great man even if they did not deserve it. In order to learn this lesson, a person needs to control their ego. It is our ego which stops us from learning from others and growing closer to Hashem.
The Midrash tells us that the angel that Hashem sent to Bilam was an Angel of Rachamim, mercy. This angel had a sword drawn and told Bilam that had his donkey not stopped, he would have killed him. That doesn’t sound like mercy, but the Malach was trying to stop him from trying to curse the Jewish people, thereby, destroying himself. Rav Avraham Pam, OB”M, says this happens in our lives all the time. We don’t realize when things look harsh, it’s actually Hashem’s mercy leading us to take a whole different path in life. He tells a story about when Rav Eli Meir Bloch was in America fundraising for Telshe Yeshiva and he couldn’t get back to Lithuania because of the war. Instead of letting this destroy him, he took it as a sign to build Torah in America. Telshe was destroyed but because Rav Eli Meir Bloch was not able to go back, he survived and replanted Telshe Yeshiva in America.
One of the main themes of last week's Parsha proved that Moshe did nothing on his own; everything he said or did was directly from Hashem's instructions. Therefore, there was never a reason to direct complaints against Moshe since he was only the messenger. Why then in this week's Parsha as the people get tired of the journey and the Mann do they complain about Moshe again? The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh answers that their complaint was quite different this time. They had learned their lesson. The Torah says, "Va'Yidaber Ha'am B'Elokim Ub'Moshe - The people spoke out about Hashem and Moshe." They realized that everything is from Hashem, but they were upset with Moshe for not Davening to take them on a less circuitous route. Their mistake was not realizing, "Kol Maa Da'avid Rachmana Letav Avid - Everything G-D does is for the best."
In some ways, this is the saddest Parsha in the Torah. It is in this Parsha, that the spies come back with a false and negative report about Eretz Yisroel. The people cry they don’t want to go in, and Hashem decrees the 40 years of wandering in the desert. He also decrees that this day, the 9th of Av, will be a national day of mourning, and all Jewish tragedies have roots on this day. The Midrash tells us, however, that despite all the sadness, Hashem reemphasizes again and again the guarantee that Eretz Yisroel is promised to our forefathers. Even though this generation wouldn’t be allowed to enter the land and inhabit it as their own, it will go to their descendants. Part of our Emunah in Hashem is that He is immortal. If you believe that Hashem is immortal, it is a given that His promise is immortal. Generations come and go, but Hashem’s promise that Eretz Yisroel will unequivocally belong to the Jewish people will remain forever.
In this week's Parsha, Aharon is commanded to light the Menorah in the Mishkan and later his descendants were given the same privilege in the Bais Hamikdash. The Midrash asks: Why does G-D, who is the master and keeper of all light, need us to light candles for Him? The Midrash answers with a parable. A man who could see was helping a blind man walk home. When they got to the dark house, the man who could see asked the blind man to go in and light the candles for him. The blind man asked, “Why, if you can help me all the way home, do you need me to light up the house for you?” The man answered that I didn't want you to feel that I did you a favor for nothing. The Midrash continues and says: We are the blind man groping in the dark and Hashem is the one who can see. He gives us the Mitzvah of Menorah and all the Mitzvos so we can feel we are earning the tremendous care He gives us all the time in this world and the next.
The birth order of the sons of Levy were Gershon, Kehas, and Merari. Why is Kehas mentioned first in last week's Parsha and Gershon isn’t mentioned until this week's Parsha? The Midrash Rabba answers Kehas is given the job of carrying the The Aron Hakodesh which holds the Torah so he is mentioned first. This shows that Torah is more precious than birth rank. The Kli Yakar however asks why then wasn't the Aron given to Gershon, the older brother, to carry? He answers that it was purposely not given to the oldest to show that Torah is not reserved for people with rank or stature only, everyone can have the Torah if they put their mind to it.
Parshas Behar- Bechukosi
אַל־תּוֹנ֖וּ אִ֥ישׁ אֶת־אָחִֽיו A man shall not oppress his friend. The Midrash learns this Passuk to mean verbal abuse. A person needs to be very careful not to hurt another person’s feelings through words. Although the secular world is fond of saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”, the Torah teaches us the opposite, "HaChaim Vehamoves Byad Haloshon - life and death are in the hands of the tongue!” The Shem M’Shmuel explains that the power of speech is a spiritual power and is, therefore, more powerful than any other power we possess. We need to use this power responsibly.
Rashi asks, “Why is Shabbos listed as the first of the Moados (the holidays) when it’s not a Moed? He answers that one who violates the holidays it is as if he is violating the Shabbos. Rav Shimshon Pincus explains this Rashi to mean that the Holiness that is part of the holiday comes from the Holiness of Shabbos. The source of any Holiness in reference to ‘time’ comes from Shabbos. Pesach and Sukkos always have at least one Shabbos within their days. Rosh Hashana marks the day that Adam Harishon was created, which was Erev Shabbos. Yom Kippur is called Shabbos Shabboson, and Shavuos is after seven complete weeks - Sheva Shabbosos Temimos. All our times of Holiness revolve around Shabbos.
Parshas Achaarie Mot- Kedoshim
The Torah tells us that the Kohen Gadol cannot go into the Kodesh Hakoshim whenever he wants. We are then told he can only go in "Bezos -with this”. After hearing that, Kayin did Teshuva for killing his brother and was forgiven. Adam Harishon wrote “Mizmor Shir L’yom HaShabbos” as an ode to the power of Teshuva. There is, however, no mention of Teshuva - only praises to G-d. Nonetheless, there is one peculiar verse “Ukesial Lo Yavin es Zos - the fool does not understand ‘Zos’ this. And finally, in the Tehillim of “L’David Hashem Ori” which is recited between the beginning of the month of Elul until the end of the holiday of Sukkos it say"BeZos Ani Boteach" In "Zos" I put my trust. What is this word "Zos " all about? The Gematria, or numeric value, of "Zos" is 408. On Rosh Hashana we say there are three things that can nullify a bad decree: Fasting which is called "Tzom", using our voice, which is known as "Kol" to call out in prayer, and giving "Mamon" or money to charity. The numerical value of "Kol" "Mamon " and "Tzom" is 408. The Kohen Gadol goes into the Kodesesh Hakadoshim with a combination of prayer, fasting and charity. We say during the High Holiday season: “It is in my prayers fasting and charity that I put my trust”. Adam Harishon said only a fool does not understand the power of prayer, fasting, and charity.
Parshas Tazria Metzorah
There is a fascinating Gemara in Eiruchin 15b, that explains the passuk from this week’s Parsha, “Zot Tehiyeh Torat Hametzora” is illuding to “Zot Tehiyeh Torat Motzei Shem Ra”. The Gemara says that anyone who speaks Loshen Horah (gossip which is true) or worse, Motzei Shem Ra (false rumors and exaggerations), it is as if he denies the entire Torah. This is one of the seven sins for which a person receives the punishment of Tzara’at. Nowadays, people do not see Tzara’at, but is still affects the Neshama of a person. We are told that when a person goes to sleep at night, 1/60th of his Neshama goes up to Shamayim. If he speaks Loshon Horah, his Tzara’at, becomes prevalent on his Neshama, and no one in Shamayim will go near him, including Hashem’s Shecinah (the Divine presence of G-D) or the Malachim. In the times when Tzara’at was noticeable, the person who was afflicted with Tzara’at had to separate from the entire community and warn others not to go near him. This was Middah K’neged Middah (measure for measure). The one who spoke Lashon Horah separated his victim from the rest of the community and has made him feel isolated, so now he is separated from others and he feels isolated. There are countless stories of people whose lives have literally been destroyed by Motzei Shem Ra, people spreading rumors about them that are simply not true. One of the reasons we must be so careful about our speech is the difficulty and near impossibility of retracting what is said. It is like tearing open a feather pillow in the middle of the town square -- and then trying to gather up all the feathers and put them back in the case.